Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus are generally accompanied by low HDL cholesterol and high plasma triglycerides, which are major cardiovascular risk factors. This review describes abnormalities in HDL metabolism and reverse cholesterol transport, i.e. the transport of cholesterol from peripheral cells back to the liver for metabolism and biliary excretion, in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Several enzymes including lipoprotein lipase (LPL), hepatic lipase (HL) and lecithin: cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT), as well as cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) and phospholipid transfer protein (PLTP), participate in HDL metabolism and remodelling. Lipoprotein lipase hydrolyses lipoprotein triglycerides, thus providing lipids for HDL formation. Hepatic lipase reduces HDL particle size by hydrolysing its triglycerides and phospholipids. A decreased postheparin plasma LPL/HL ratio is a determinant of low HDL2 cholesterol in insulin resistance. The esterification of free cholesterol by LCAT increases HDL particle size. Plasma cholesterol esterification is unaltered or increased in type 2 diabetes mellitus, probably depending on the extent of triglyceride elevation. Subsequent CETP action results in transfer of cholesteryl esters from HDL towards triglyceride-rich lipoproteins, and is involved in decreasing HDL size. An increased plasma cholesteryl ester transfer is frequently observed in insulin-resistant conditions, and is considered to be a determinant of low HDL cholesterol. Phospholipid transfer protein generates small pre β-HDL particles that are initial acceptors of cell-derived cholesterol. Its activity in plasma is elevated in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus in association with high plasma triglycerides and obesity. In insulin resistance, the ability of plasma to promote cellular cholesterol efflux may be maintained consequent to increases in PLTP activity and pre β-HDL. However, cellular cholesterol efflux to diabetic plasma is probably impaired. Besides, cellular abnormalities that are in part related to impaired actions of ATP binding cassette transporter 1 and scavenger receptor class B type I are likely to result in diminished cellular cholesterol efflux in the diabetic state. Whether hepatic metabolism of HDL-derived cholesterol and subsequent hepatobiliary transport is altered in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus is unknown.
Specific CETP inhibitors have been developed that exert major HDL cholesterol-raising effects in humans and retard atherosclerosis in animals. As an increased CETP-mediated cholesteryl ester transfer represents a plausible metabolic intermediate between high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol, studies are warranted to evaluate the effects of these agents in insulin resistance- and diabetes-associated dyslipidaemia.